Fishing for steelhead in the Grand River this fall has been very slow above the 6th Street Dam. Don Stephens has had much experience and success catching steelhead there for many years. This year, however, so far had been one of the slowest he could remember.
Many trips in October and the first part of November produced little results, with only a couple scattered fish being caught, and most trips drawing blanks. Usually steelhead come to this part of the river a few weeks earlier, but seasonal weather and water conditions dictate that.
Don’s method of fishing for steelhead in the river is trolling slow crankbaits upstream, but he sometimes will slip downstream going forward if there is enough current or anchor, and drop lures back. If there is a second fisherman in the boat, fan casting as the boat progresses covers much more water. This is often done with a blade bait or heavier spoon like a Cleo.
On Nov. 13, I joined Don on the Grand River and we tried this approach again (persistence is important in fishing!). There had been a recent rain and the river level had gone up. The water temperature was down to 44 degrees, the coolest yet this fall. The weather was good for fishing, with dark clouds, a slight mist and light wind.
We began about 9:30 a.m. and only had three hours to fish. Small Hottentots and T-4 flatfish were selected for trolling to give the best depth and work at the proper speed, which is slow in most cases. Other depths and speeds can be checked on the cast if necessary.
A red hottentot was very visible under these conditions and was picked for casting to get better depth and speed control, but it was too light for the heavier baitcasting outfit (17-pound test line). Heavier equipment and a longer rod is desired to control these vigorous fighters, especially in strong current, or many would be lost, so a ¼-ounce rubber core sinker was placed about a foot above the lure for casting distance.
This combination obtained a depth of 5-6 feet, which is just about right, as the main breakline in the river occurs at that depth. Casting to the side of the boat and upstream allows the lure to sweep down and across structure not covered by trolling. Don’s vast knowledge of the structure in the river allowed him to keep the boat in proper position on the breakline while trolling.
Around 10:15 a.m. a nice fish was hooked on the cast. Steelhead are strong fighters and fast swimmers and are difficult to land, especially in the river. They tend to roll in the line at the surface and if given slack, may cut the line with their gill plates. They often jump, but at this time the water may have been too cold to allow that.
With two fishermen in the boat, netting the fish is an easier job. Don uses a heavy chain anchor on the river, and he drops it as soon as a fish is hooked. This allows better control of the fish while fighting it. The fish was netted and placed in the live well, and we quickly got back to trolling and casting the same area — fish activity periods (movements) can be short in the cold season, so we wanted to take advantage of it.
Soon, another nice fish was hooked on the cast but was lost due to too light a drag to set the hook well. I had lightened the drag to fight so active a fish, but forgot to tighten it again when finished! Then a smaller fish was hooked on the troll and landed. Finally, a third fish was landed on the cast.
All this action took place in less than an hour. At that time, the wind picked up, the rain stopped, the skies got lighter, and no more fish were caught. We really didn’t have to have further proof that Buck Perry’s Spoonplugging knowledge about fish is correct, but Charlie Myers called Don on his cell phone and said that he had just caught a 42-inch musky on Murry Lake at the same time that we had caught the steelhead!
We had been fishing the right place, at the right time, and in the right manner. Fishermen should realize that Spoonplugging can be applied to all kinds of fishing, even steelhead!
Editor’s note: Spoonpluggers believe that knowledge is the key to fishing success. The Northern Indiana Spoonpluggers meet every third Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the Kendallville Public Library. They always welcome curious visitors and new members who would like to more about the Spoonplugging way of fishing. Dues are a book of postage stamps.